Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Thirty-One

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Greetings and salutations, my Cosmere Chickens, and welcome to another Thursday and another installment of the Rhythm of War reread! This week we’re hitting the road with Venli and the Fused army to (::gulp::) capture Urithiru! The tension is a little subdued, as we also learn a lot about the differences between how singers and Radiants use the Surges and get some really neat Cosmere theory-fodder, but it’s still there, lurking in the background… Kaladin and Teft and the others remaining in Urithiru are about to get a very rude awakening! Let’s dive in, shall we?

Reminder: We’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now. If you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of the Stormlight Archive (this includes Edgedancer and Dawnshard as well as the entirety of Rhythm of War), best to wait to join us until you’re done.

In this week’s discussion we don’t really address the Cosmere or any other series, so you should be safe even if you haven’t read All The Books.

Heralds: Talenelat (Talenel, Taln), Herald of War. Stonewards. Dependable/Resourceful. Role: Soldier. Battah (Battar). Elsecallers. Wise/Careful. Role: Counsellor.

L: Well, the singers/Fused are marching to war, so that would explain Taln’s placement, here. Meanwhile, Venli is being very careful not to reveal her true nature/sympathies to her new master, so that’d account for Battah.

A: Those make sense, though I’m always surprised when a Venli chapter doesn’t have Kalak at the top. One other minor note is that Raboniel uses the Surge of Transformation, which is one of the Elsecaller Surges.

Icon: The Singer (denoting a chapter from Venli’s POV).

Epigraph:

I do not share their attitude. If you can, as you suppose, maintain Odium’s prison for now, it would give us necessary time to plan. This is a threat beyond the capacity of one Shard to face.

L: Considering what happens to Hoid at the end of this book, I’m not entirely convinced of his ability to maintain any sort of hold over Odium… which doesn’t bode well for the cosmere at large.

A: Indeed! I’m seriously concerned about that episode. It’s also a little ironic that Harmony says the threat is “beyond the capacity of one Shard”—but still hopes that Hoid can do the job singlehandedly. Granted that he’s only hoping Hoid can maintain the status quo for now, until the Shards can come up with a plan for the longer term, it’s still a bit boggling.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Venli
WHERE: A few days outside of Urithiru
WHEN: 1175.4.5.4 (If this date is correct, this chapter is out of sync with the Urithiru and Shadesmar timelines.)

(Note: For the “when” notations, we are using this wonderful timeline provided by the folks at The 17th Shard.)


Venli marches with the Fused army on the way to capture Urithiru. (Wow, this recap sure is a short one, huh? We get a lot of cool discussions, but nothing much happens in this one.)

Overall Reactions

Which would you rather worship? A god of plants? Or a god of emotions?” She waved to the southeast. “Cultivation hides in these mountains somewhere. She is everywhere, but she is also here. Alive, but frightened. She knows. She is not a god of people, but of creatures.

“And Honor? A god of laws? Again, which would you prefer? A god who knows only how to make a rock fall to the ground? Or a god who knows us, understands us, feels as we do?

L: Wow. This is a really fascinating theological query. I’m going to draw some parallels to real life religions here to put it into context for myself, because honestly this is a really cool question. We do, in real life, have religions which are based on nature/plants (Paganism/Wicca) and ones which are more based on laws (Christianity, especially the OId Testament), and there’s definitely a wide divide in how many practitioners gravitate towards each. Generally speaking, “law” is the more popular choice. Do we have religions which are based on emotions, though? I’d almost argue that the old Greek/Roman pantheons were more based on emotion, in that the gods themselves were driven by their (very human) emotions. Buddhism/Hinduism I don’t know enough about to speculate on.

A: While I prefer not to weigh in on your categories (since this isn’t a good forum for RL religious debate), I’d like to point out that Raboniel does here much the same thing people do IRL when talking about religions with which they disagree: She summarizes them unfairly. “She is not a god of people but of creatures.” “A god who knows only how to make a rock fall to the ground.” Even from the little we know, those are incredibly superficial and belittling descriptions.

L: That’s true!

A: We saw Cultivation’s interaction with Dalinar; was that merely “a god of plants” and “a god of creatures” with no understanding of human nature?  We also saw the conversations, however one-sided, in Honor’s visions sent to Dalinar. Again, was that merely “a god of laws” who “only knows how to make a rock fall to the ground” with no understanding of emotion? Neither is remotely accurate—and Raboniel, who knew both Honor and Cultivation before the arrival of the humans, would know that. So she’s painting Odium in a lovely golden light and the other two in stark shadows. It would probably have worked very well on Venli before she bonded Timbre, but now she’s got a better feedback mechanism.

A: In other thoughts, there are thirty of the makay-im, the Fused “Deepest Ones,” and five hundred stormform soldiers, plus Raboniel and Venli. This is Raboniel’s idea of “a small group of ground troops” which can be stealthy enough, moving at night and during storms, to sneak up on the Tower. I’m no military expert, and they succeed in sneaking so she’s not entirely wrong, but when I think “a small group” I don’t come up with 532 right off…

L: Yeah, that’s a pretty sizable force, by military standards.

Spren and Shadesmar

There wasn’t a single lifespren in sight, though coldspren lined the ground, pointing toward the sky.

A: This isn’t particularly significant that I know of, but I still thought it was interesting. They aren’t all that far from Cultivation’s Valley here, but even that proximity doesn’t make the lifespren want to hang out up here in these desolate places.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

“The innate forces by which all life, all reality, are connected. Gravitation. Transportation. Transformation. But … I thought there were ten?”

“That is human talk,” Raboniel said to Derision. “They claim a tenth, of Honor alone. Adhesion is not a true Surge, but a lie that was presented to us as one. True Surges are of both Honor and Cultivation—Cultivation for life, Honor to make the Surge into natural law. Things must fall to the ground, so they created Surges to make it happen.”

L: Well that’s fascinating! Adhesion isn’t of Cultivation, but all the others are? So that would make half of the Windrunners’ and Bondsmiths’ powers not of life?

A: I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s possible that they couldn’t use Lifelight to power Adhesion, if they can use Lifelight at all. The bigger question I have is that the Surges should have been in existence (and IMO were based on the understanding of the singers) long before Honor and Cultivation made Roshar their home; they should be part of the innate makeup of the system as formed by Adonalsium. Does that mean that Cultivation chose not to involve herself with Adhesion, or for some reason they thought that one would be better associated only with Honor? Being “the Surge of Pressure and Vacuum,” did she decide that it wasn’t particularly relevant to her more ground-based powers? Or is this an artifact of Ishar’s rule-making? So many questions…

“The Radiants each have two Surges,” Venli said. “The Fused each have one. So are the Radiants more powerful?”

“Powerful? Is it better to have more abilities, or to have one ability handled expertly?

L: An excellent question, that reminds me of the old saying “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” Yeah, the Fused may be masters of their one surge… but the Radiants have found fascinating ways to combine the Surges they have access to. I think it actually makes them equal, or it would if the Radiants had also had thousands of years to hone their abilities… or even the benefit of knowledge passed down by previous teachers. Sadly, however, they have not had this advantage, so the Fused still hold the high ground.

A: Agreed! The fact that the Fused have had thousands of years of practice as individuals would give them some advantage over the lifespan-limited humans in any case. I suppose that in former times, the spren themselves might have made up for that somewhat, and certainly the structures that were in place to pass down the knowledge would have balanced it even further. Right now, though, the Radiants and their spren are rediscovering the whole thing. They are definitely at a disadvantage in many ways; only one fourth-Ideal Elsecaller, and no one else above third; extremely limited numbers; lack of experience and knowledge. Still, as you say, the ways the Radiants can combine their Surges can be a definite plus!

Humans. They were not created for this world, these Surges, or the storms. Light leaks from humans like water through fingers. They get flares of great power, but cannot hold what they have.

L: Another great advantage the Fused have over the Radiants. The Radiants are sprinters, whereas the Fused are long distance runners.

A: Remember way back in The Way of Kings, when Szeth mused about how the Voidbringers were said to have been able to hold Stormlight perfectly? Granted the Fused use Voidlight instead of Stormlight, but it appears he was right. Is it because of the gemhearts? Or is it an effect of the Voidlight? And most of all, why do they not use it up? The Pursuer does, actually; he has to go replenish his supply every so often. But the rest of them don’t seem to burn it at all, and I’m confused.

L: Maybe they do, but they naturally replenish it over time? Like the regen spell in Final Fantasy. (Or “refresh,” for those of you who might be familiar with FFXI’s old system. Refresh allowed you to gradually over time replenish your MP as opposed to HP.) If the singers have the ability to draw Voidlight from the world around them rather than just from the Everstorm…

A: Well, that’s a scary thought! It would make a lot of sense, though, from what we’ve observed. The Pursuer burns a ton of Investiture in three short bursts, creating entire new bodies, then has to go replenish (and we don’t know where he goes, or what his power re-up source is). Leshwi, on the other hand, we saw only using her power for flying and healing, while fighting multiple opponents constantly, and she was able to keep going for a long time before her healing even slowed.

“Can any Radiant claim to know the stones as these do, melding with rock, mixing their very axi? Radiants are so outwardly focused. They change the world, but ignore themselves. […]”

L: This seems like a pretty fair assessment, to be honest.

A: True of some orders, from what we’ve seen, but not necessarily all of them; Lightweavers and Truthwatchers especially seem to affect themselves more. But then, we have a very limited sample size, so… dunno.

L: The Lightweavers are usually still changing peoples’ perception of themselves, which I could argue is still outwardly focused… if these Fused are changing their very axi (atoms), that’s VERY different from anything we’ve seen from any of our Radiants.

A: Truth. Big difference between a masking overlay and actually modifying your physical structure.

Geography, History, and Cultures

These mountains, as far as Venli could tell, weren’t claimed by any particular kingdom. The isolated valleys were too inaccessible from the outside. Her team had been dropped in by Heavenly Ones several weeks before, then left to travel the rest of the way to Urithiru on foot.

A: You can see on the map above roughly where they are in this chapter. While Venli notes that this area is too inaccessible to be worth claiming, they are traversable. I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that the route they’re traveling is much like the one Nohadon took when he “walked from Abamabar to Urithiru.”

The bright azure light of Honor’s Moon…

A: I don’t think this term has been used before or since, so I assume it’s a name used by either the singers or the listeners to refer to what the humans call Nomon, the blue second moon in Roshar’s sky. I really would like to know what they call the other two.

L: I love that there are several moons, and how it’s not a big deal in terms of the text. It’s just a natural part of the world and the characters rarely notice it. (It reminds me a bit of the old Dragonlance books. I think that’s the first fantasy book I ever read that made mention of there being several different moons.)

Singers/Fused

These ones—called the makay-im, or “Those Ones of the Depths”—had access to one of her same Surges: the ability to turn stone into a liquid.

L: Ooooh, so these ones have access to the surge of Cohesion (as Raboniel confirms later in the chapter). The Stonewards and Willshapers share this one.

The makay-im can meld their essence into the essences of other things, intermingling their axi. All things are mostly emptiness, though we cannot see that it is so.

L: Reminder that “axi” is the Cosmere word for atoms. It’s been a loooooooong time since I studied chemistry, and I was pretty awful at it to begin with (it’s the only class in high school I outright failed), so I’m just going to let other more knowledgeable theory-crafters take the helm on this one.

A: Heh. Gotcha covered, with a degree in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Chemistry. Except… there’s not a lot to say about this. It makes sense. I mean, no, it sort of doesn’t, because it’s not something we can really do in general, but knowing how protons and neutrons and electrons work (not to mention molecules), it’s really cool to think of being able to slide your atoms through other atoms without disrupting either one.

The Deepest Ones had smooth skin, no hair, and barely any carapace—just shells over their heads and genitals. This put their vibrant patterns on display across the full lengths of their sinuous bodies. … They stayed aloof from the rest of the strike team as they moved through the frozen mountain passes.

L: This is so cool. I really love how the different forms not only have very different outer appearances, but how the forms also alter their personalities. This is nothing new, of course; we’ve seen it for the last couple books, but I just always love seeing it. It’s a fascinating worldbuilding choice that Brandon made here, and it’s not a concept I recall having seen in any other fantasy books.

The bright azure light of Honor’s Moon revealed thirty figures, some in rippling robes, sliding across the ground while standing. It wasn’t quite like the shetel-im, the Flowing Ones, who could slide across any surface as if it were slick. This was something different. The Deepest Ones stood with their feet sunken into the ground up past their ankles.

L: The shetel-im are utilizing the same Surge as the Edgedancers, then, moving with “awesomeness,” as Lift would put it.

A: Yep, the shetel-im use Abrasion, just like Edgedancers. We saw a couple of those at Thaylen City (and probably since then, too, but I don’t recall at the moment), sliding across the ground like an ice skater. The way these makay-im move, though, apparently standing still but moving through the ground—that’s wild. They don’t seem to push off anything the way the Edgedancers do; they just… move with no apparent movement. It would look sort of like you were standing on an airport slidewalk, except with water up to your ankles, only it’s actually stone. It’s honestly a bit creepy.

L: This is very interesting, and I wonder how the physics of it works out. Are they using the mass of the ground to push themselves forward? This line seems to indicate as such:

Like sticks in a current following a powerful highstorm, as if the stone were pushing them along while they stood perfectly still.

A: Using the mass of the ground is as good an explanation as I can give, but I have no idea how it could actually work!

L: Also worthwhile to note that we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator here, so that may not necessarily be what’s going on…

To so many, you are merely the child of traitors. Yet Leshwi gave you honor. Named you Last Listener.”

A: The Fused seem to set great store by titles, and it’s… interesting. Any Fused can, apparently, bestow a title as they wish, and the rest accept the appellation as an honor to the recipient. Sort of, anyway; later, they seem a bit torn between using “Last Listener” as an honorific or an insult. But we’ll get there later.

Fused are not kind; they reward competence and Passion. Even if one is the daughter of traitors.

L: I suppose, when one is as long-lived as the Fused are, such qualities as competence and Passion would be viewed as incredibly desirable. It makes sense for them not to have much patience for incompetence when they’ve had thousands of years to hone their own abilities…

A: It makes sense out of the next exchange, too.

“[Leshwi] is among the most clever and capable of the Heavenly Ones.”

“She… might dispute that, Ancient One.”

“Yes, I realize how much work she does to make others underestimate her.” Raboniel said it to Satisfaction. “She is dangerous, and that is good.”

A: They may not trust one another, and they may be greatly at odds in certain of their goals, but they definitely respect each other. Fascinating that Raboniel sees through Leshwi’s facade so easily, when most others don’t.

“If Surges are from Honor and Cultivation,” she said, “then why do we serve Odium?”

“A dangerous question,” Raboniel said to Derision. “You truly are the daughter of traitors, aren’t you?”

L: I mean… it’s a good question. I can see why Raboniel reacts the way she does, though. When you’ve got something that’s been common knowledge for thousands of years, someone asking why must seem awfully infantile. “Why is water wet?”

A: It may be a question she doesn’t really want to consider very deeply, given what we learn from Leshwi later. Or it may be that Raboniel firmly believes that Honor and Cultivation betrayed them by allowing the humans to come to this planet, so using their Surges to serve Odium is no more than they deserve. Or, as you say, it may be a state of affairs that she’s so accustomed to, she doesn’t consider the question to be valid anymore. But it’s a question I’ve also asked, and I want to know the answer.

Flora and Fauna of the Physical Realm

…the occasional clump of squat trees, their branches interwoven to create a storm-resistant snarl. Though leaves on these trees would retract before storms, the branches remained firm and interlocked.

L: Just more cool worldbuilding stuff here. I love how the branches interlock to protect the fauna from the highstorms.

A: I had so much trouble wrapping my head around the trees in this book, for some reason. I think I developed a blind spot from all that time on the Shattered Plains, or something. (I should go back and look at the beta to see if Brandon added some of this kind of explanation to shut off my constant complaining about how they didn’t make sense. Heh.) But this is really cool and consistent; the leaves pull back into the branches so they don’t just get ripped off, just like grass pulls into the ground and other plants pull back into their rockbuds. Then the branches weave together to protect themselves—and conveniently, the animals—from getting destroyed. Cool worldbuilding indeed.

We’ll be leaving further speculation and discussion to you in the comments, so have fun and remember to be respectful of the opinions of others! Next week, we’ll be back with chapter thirty-two.

Alice is enjoying spring in the PNW, and is gearing up for a personal reread of Mistborn Era 2. Did you see? There’s a progress bar for “Wax & Wayne Book 4 (Mistborn 7)” on Sanderson’s website now.

Lyndsey is gearing up for the return of renn faires (FINALLY) and is also a fantasy author herself. She’s been doing occasional tie-in videos to the reread and silly cosmere cosplay vids on TikTok, or you can follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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